The new season (series) of Doctor Who started yesterday and I feel I am required to say something about it. Typically this is not something I do, at least in the terms of a “hot take” or some such thing. I usually like to ruminate on a thing for a week or a month perhaps a year before giving my opinion on that thing. Actually if you peruse this site a bit you will find my rumination to be something like 20 to 30 years. But regardless, I like to think on things a bit before spouting off.
The reason for this is simple; my opinions change after I think about them. On first viewing I am typically caught up in the moment and the excitement. But after some time to reflect and perhaps a bit of context that initial excitement wains and I am able to see a thing for what it is rather than what I wanted it to be.
As an example I saw The Phantom Menace at a midnight screening with a large group of Star Wars fans and came away thinking that was a pretty darn good movie. But after some time passed and a couple more viewings I realized that what I really enjoyed was the experience of seeing the movie and the company I saw it with rather than the actual movie itself.
For me taking my time is the best way to critique something. But this is the Internet and time is not our friend on the Internet. We must weigh in immediately with a unique take using strong language and a definitive all-or-nothing attitude. Nuance be damned!
Again, typically I eschew this sort of thing but this is Doctor Who, my personal favorite program of all time, and it is beginning a new era of the program with a gender-flipped lead, a new showrunner, a new production team and writing staff, hell even a new composer. This is the biggest change the program has seen since the show rebooted in 2005. So I really can’t sit this one out can I?
And now, after that lengthy introduction, I give you my first impression of the 2018 reimagining of Doctor Who:
It was pretty good.
That was worth the wait wasn’t it?
I have to admit when it comes to Doctor Who I am a bit biased. I tend to see the program like I see pizza…when it’s good it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. And last night’s series 11 premiere episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth was pretty good.
If there is anything negative I can say about it is the fact that it played things rather safe. And yes the villain was sort of a Predator pastiche but both of those things can be forgiven due to what the episode was attempting to do. It was simultaneously introducing a new, female Doctor, new companions (plural), and a new direction for the show to follow. All set to brand new music. That is pretty daunting to just one of those things, crazy to do all three. And in this time of toxic fandom really an amazing accomplishment.
(To be fair the level of “eww, it’s a girl” blowback from a certain group of fans has been minor and for the most part completely ignored by the broader base of DW fandom and it never reached Star Wars levels of toxicity thank god.)
The one thing that the episode needed to do – to knock out of the park really – was its portrayal of the Doctor. A new Doctor is always a volatile thing. When Capaldi took over I admit it was a few episodes till I warmed to his portrayal. And let us not speak of Colin Baker. So it was very important for Jodie Whitaker to nail this first impression. She did. This should not be surprising due to the fact that she is a brilliant actress. But the story allowed her to simultaneously have room to develop what she wants to do with the character while just getting on with the business of Doctoring.
And the supporting cast seems to be a diverse group (again, probably pissing off that small toxic fandom but who cares) that seem to have a good rapport with Whitaker’s doctor and this is the first truly ensemble cast in Doctor Who since Peter Davison’s tenure.
All of this bodes well for the season. And I’m thrilled for that.
I guess I should mention the trepidation some critics have voiced toward the new showrunner Chris Chibnall. There are some that have decried him as overrated at best or a hack at worst. I personally do not see that. His previous writing for Doctor Who has been mixed this is true, but never outright bad. And I enjoyed Broadchurch but I will admit that the writing went up and down throughout the three seasons held together by outstanding performances (one of which was Jodie Whitaker) but again there is nothing I can point to and say that is awful or terrible. If nothing else I see Chibnall as a solid, workmanlike writer that occasionally does something brilliant. And judging by this opening episode it looks as if – at least for the beginning of the series – he will be easing people into the new setup. Because change is scary.
And this is where I will rant for a bit I guess.
There are those who will hate on the program simply to be contrarian. This is the same group who say Steven Moffat is a bad writer, or that Peter Capaldi was a terrible actor, or well just pick any number contrived complaints. Basically what it comes down to is that some people want only what they are used to and any deviation from that is considered terrible and bad. This is particularly a problem in scifi fandom for the reason that continuity and world building is seen as paramount and knowing and regurgitating this information on demand is prized. But I am here to say in terms of Doctor Who continuity is meaningless.
Doctor Who is the only program I can think of that has change built right into its premise. I mean the whole point of “regeneration” is that every three to five years it becomes an entirely different show. And while there is a “mythology” to the show it has always, always, played fast and loose with its continuity. Every time the program regenerates it pick and chooses what it will be considered canon and what will be discarded. Anyone remember the Valeyard? You shouldn’t, because it was a stupid idea that only worked for one story and the idea was jettisoned immediately after. And that is the best and most brilliant part of Doctor Who…continuity really does not matter. I know that pisses off the hardcore geek fans (and I am a hardcore geek fan) that like to build an elaborate mythos and track timelines and histories and keep tabs on the minutia of every line of dialogue and character and species. But it does not matter in Doctor Who. Whenever something does not track or doesn’t fit in well it just gets wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’d away.
All that matters in Doctor Who is the current story being told. And that is what makes it great. This is the only program that pays lip service to the past but always remains focused on the current story being told. And that story can be any time, any place, any genre. Continuity is all well and good, but story is supreme.
And that is why I love this show.
We are only one episode in to the Jodie Whitaker era of Doctor Who and to me it looks good. I am as I said in the rambling opening to this piece that I am reluctant to pass judgment on something with only a few hours refection. Things will become clearer as the season progresses and when we can look back on it as a whole. That being said I truly enjoyed watching The Woman Who Fell to Earth last night and I am eager to see where the show goes from here.
The old Doctor Who is dead. Long live Doctor Who.